Sando illustration
The katsu sando Illustration: Sarah Becan

If you have an Instagram account and even a passing interest in food, then you’re probably familiar with the sando — the Japanese white bread sandwich that’s typically cut through the center and upended photogenically so the filling stares back at you. Some versions, like the egg salad one from LA’s Konbi, with a yellow-eyed jammy egg tucked amid the salad, have achieved cult status. Others can be a thing of splurgy expense, like the wagyu katsu sando, popularized by Tokyo restaurateur Kentaro Nakahara; it features the world’s most precious beef breaded, fried, and slapped between bread — the West Loop’s Yugen served one for a cool $100.

All this sando worship is hilarious to anyone who has found themselves drunk in Japan at midnight, the absolute ideal time to eat one. The konbini (convenience stores) there stock all kinds of sandos: tuna salad ones, strawberry and whipped cream ones, fried shrimp patty ones, potato croquette ones, and the king of them all, the katsu sando, a breaded pork cutlet topped with a thick Worcestershire sauce and perhaps a bit of shredded lettuce or cabbage. Like most sandos, it comes on shokupan — the puffy white bread that, when squished, springs back to its original form, like a Nerf football or a late-model Terminator.

Here in Chicago, the sando is taking off too, but thankfully, the options are less pricey and cultish, more geared toward comfort. The pop-up Nine Bar Market sells its simple egg salad, katsu, and curry chicken salad versions for around $7, while Mom’s chefs Randi Howry and Kelly Ijichi offer furikake egg salad with a side of nori fries for $12. Even Yugen has modified its sando offerings during the pandemic — swing by for $12 crustless turkey and cheese sandwiches to go. Pretend you’re in Japan: Pick up some sandos and throw them in the fridge. Eat them after you’ve had a few drinks and are in need of a satisfying midnight snack.